Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Genre: RPG, Third Person Shooter
Release Date: 6/1/2010
Console: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PC, PS3
Obsidian and SEGA have teamed together to bring everyone a very different form of a spy game. One where espionage is not the only way of obtaining the things that you need. What if you could simply talk your way out of a confrontation? Or what if by talking to someone, you’ll have the drop on putting a bullet in their head? That is one of the key points in Alpha Protocol.
Alpha Protocol begins quite solidly with your modern day terrorist setting. You play as Michael Thorton a volunteer spy that is now a member of the secretive Alpha Protocol team. Alpha Protocol takes care of things off of the public radar and is effectively funded by the government. There has been a terrorist attack on a passenger plane in the Middle East and you must find the man responsible and bring him to justice.
This is of course the barest of bones in storyline description because this is a point that Alpha Protocol excels at and should be experienced first hand. The story progresses at a smooth pace and the various twists that occur in any good spy movie are not expected in the slightest. The characters provide a wealth of information to draw upon when you play through the storyline and there is a bit of openness after a certain point allowing you to choose your actions as you see fit.
When it comes to how Alpha Protocol looks; it quite honestly varies. It doesn’t contain anything extraordinary in the form of appearance. The graphics are well enough that there is no glaring issue in the overall appearance which is a good thing. But then again there is also an issue with the amount of texture popping that the system has to do consistently. When walking down a hallway there will be times when you will see the walls only a few feet away start popping in with full texture when originally it was blurry in appearance, or even smooth.
Put that together with the fact that the many, many enemies you will be fighting have very little extraordinary difference amongst themselves. They all appear different of course when it comes to faction differences; but the various guards you will be fighting in each area look exactly the same. Plus besides during cut scenes; none of the enemies will have facial movements, their face will appear the exact same as if they were standing still unalarmed; as when you have shot them twice in the knees. This is during the fighting of course, while in cut scenes and dialogue each character involved will have fully animated features and emotions which is a nice touch.
If there is one thing that Alpha Protocol does well in, it is the sound department. Voice acting is one of the best you will hear in an RPG and rivals those that you can hear in other modern day RPGs such as Fallout. This is a major plus due to the fact that there will be a lot of talking throughout the game as you progress through the storyline.
The soundtrack to the game itself though is relatively generic with little to set it apart. It is there in the background, but that is all. Additionally there are zero vocals in any of the songs in the soundtrack which is unfortunate as it would have helped get the blood pumping during some of the more action oriented parts of the game.
The RPG element of the game is provided via a skill point system. Every weapon category available in the game has its own set of skills; fists, assault rifles, SMGs, pistols, and shotguns. There is also of course, the stealth skill where the spy part of the game comes into play. Plus the standard toughness status which will end up making Mike tougher. Additionally there are also hacking skill upgrades which will make various mini-games easier; more on that in moment.
There are a variety of small mini games, such as deciphering computer code and bypassing alarms that will occur quite often in the game and feel perfectly in place. There is a time limit as one would expect for these things and making an error reduces the time significantly. The lock picking feels a bit clunky however as there are moments when the tumblers are lined up completely and will still cause an error.
How do you approach combat in an RPG of this element? Firstly this is not your standard FPS, as you are always looking over Mike’s shoulder, but then there is the aiming. Each weapon will have a literally gigantic aiming reticle with a dot in the middle to focus on your enemy. Unfortunately this large aiming device is going to involve a lot of missed shots and when firing a full clip of pistol rounds from across the room at a stationary target, and still missing it can be a bit infuriating.
However this is an intentional feature when it is implemented into Alpha Protocol. Your weapon will gain in stability and focus when you advance your proficiency in the weapon as stated earlier. They will never truly be accurate as you would want but weapon customization does help speed the process along.
There is an additional feature though with weapons, as the longer you aim down your sights you have the chance for a critical hit. Assault Rifles and Pistols are given arrows which will close down the firing area and provide perfect shots, while the SMGs will give you damage percentage increase. The shotgun will also provide critical damage and spread further with multiple enemy killing potential.
This is a bit unbalanced however, as the Assault Rifles and Pistols will provide complete domination when they are trained enough, and certain skills are able to use the pistol in a bullet time mode where it is quite dominating at relatively close range.
Again though there will be nearly no trouble killing the various AI that you will encounter. They are unfortunately quite idiotic and will run right past you when you are standing in plain sight. Enemies will stand in cover and allow you to simply walk up to them and punch their lights out. They are set on set paths and during one particular instance I was blasting away at an enemy at close range and he started to climb up a ladder right behind him. There was no reason for this action and it made it very simple to kill him.
The cover system is situational to put simply. There are times that Michael will literally be stuck to the wall like glue and require a bit of working to get him off. Other times cover will work perfectly but when you pop out to take a shot you will be unable to shoot due to some sort of glitch. The cover system will work for the majority of times you will use it but when it does mess up it can cause a dire situation to turn into a crisis.
Now onto where you can talk your way through trouble or cause more for yourself. Obsidian has developed what they call the Direct Dialogue System or DDS, for this very reason. At it’s core there will be three direct interactions when it comes to speaking with someone. They are labeled with the three primary buttons, X is always a Suave response, Y is Aggressive, and B is Professional. Every once in awhile you will have the option to do a special interaction which is logged to the A button.
These responses are not always labeled as such but always fall into the category that the button press will activate. On top of that there is a time limit to your responses. You do not have the luxury to be wishy washy in your responses. Except when asking initial quests there will be an average of ten seconds to make your choice and if you do not decide by then it will be made for you.
As you talk to everyone the game will start to manipulate the relationship factor with that specific character. How do you tell what characters like what? Check their dossiers which will provide additional information on each main plot character and you will learn how to manipulate their emotions.
Off of that and back to the relationships. If you say something in the conversation it will occasionally alter their feelings for Mike and this can provide additional bonuses. If you make an enemy angry enough at you they will begin to make mistakes and give you bonuses against them. Then again if you start to gain their trust there will be bonuses as well. Bear in mind that the game does contain some mature elements with certain female characters in the game and gaining enough of a trust with these characters will result in a sexual scene but nothing completely lewd.
Alpha Protocol contains everything a good spy should have. A variety of weapons, skills to hack through nearly any type of device, and a mouth that can cut as sharply as a blade. What it does have issues with however is the presentation and the combat. Sure the combat is improvable but the starting issue is hard to miss. The graphics are never truly bad either, but the pop-in of textures is distracting. It does have an amazing storyline beneath the problems it does have and is quite the solid RPG when it gets down to it.
I give Alpha Protocol for the Xbox 360